The winter solstice occurs at 5:44 am EST on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 21st. This ceremony is best done in the hours before dawn on Wednesday morning, or after dark on Wednesday evening.
A ritual like this is designed to honor a key moment in the solar cycle - one of four major downbeats in the score of the solar year - when the sun changes signs and a new season begins. We have a general vibe of when the seasons change - we can all sense the difference between spring, summer, fall and winter - but the solstices and equinoxes are the mathematical points of exactitude when we switch from one season to the next.
Why does this matter? Whether you care about the astrology or not, when the sun does anything, it affects us all. It’s the source of light, of energy, of warmth that connects us and gives us life. Metaphysically it represents all of that, but in a more immediate and deeply personal way - the sun is considered to be the source of consciousness and our connection to life itself. So observing the solar cycles is an opportunity to honor this point of public connection to each other, while also considering our personal connection to ourselves and our very existence.
The other seasons have their reasons, but the winter solstice is my fave because it’s kind of goth. It’s the moment that our ancestors stopped to consider, “what if we don’t make it through the winter?” The common sense thing to do at this time of year is to be eminently practical (as the sun enters Capricorn), and to release absolutely everything we don’t need while carefully conserving what we do need to get us through the cold dark winter. But there is always the nagging feeling that even if we are meticulous in our conservation of resources we might not make it anyway. So it’s a time for reckoning, of giving so much thanks for what we have - to eat, to sleep on, to keep us warm - while recognizing the true value we have in the things we cannot hold or taste or snuggle. It’s pretty stark. Kind of sweet. Kind of goth.
Spiritually speaking, its a time of inner housekeeping. If I don’t make it through this winter, what actually matters RIGHT NOW? From where does your power come? What is your power really? What really matters to you? What really gives you life?
We are compelled to say “family,” during the holidays, but even if your family is the best ever, that’s still a tangible, external support, and all that is external and tangible is subject to disappearing in the cold dark winter. At this time of year we are urged to rely on that which is internal and intangible. I’m keeping it pretty non-verbal this year. I’m grateful to be alive, to breathe, to think. When all else is taken away from us we are left with the light, the inner radiance that is metaphysically connected to the sun.
The most potent symbolism of the winter solstice is has to do with light and dark. Today is the shortest day of the year and the longest night (in the northern hemisphere), thanks to the sun being at its lowest point in the sky relative to the angle of the Earth. That’s what the sun is doing while staring down at our pale, sniffly faces. That is the thing that our body feels even if our minds are illuminated by one LED screen or another. That is what connects us to our ancestors, and to each other. We honor the shortest day and the longest night, and treat it as a symbolic dark night of the soul, the darkest hour just before dawn.
And yet it’s not just about the dark. When the sun hits rock bottom, the only place for it to go is back up. When the days are at their shortest, the only thing they can do is get longer, and that’s what happens. The solstice, from the latin sol, meaning sun, and sistere, to come to a stop, is the point where the sun appears to stop at its lowest point before it begins its upward climb. We honor the depth and dark of the stopping, and the long winter that is to come which could even cause our own lives to stop… but we also honor the implicit climb that is to come. This is the return of the light, the dawning of the new, slightly longer day and somewhere, in the not too distant future, the return of spring and the promise of new life.
Note that we don't ask for anything during this ritual. It's not the ideal time for manifestation or making things come to fruition. It's better to cut back, let go, and give thanks.
There is so much more symbolism and meaning that can be discussed here. But for now I leave you with an urging - what I’m writing down to encapsulate this moment in simple verbal form:
“Go in. Quiet down. Let go. Give thanks. Look into the darkness and face your fear. Continue to give thanks. Rejoice at the light in the midst of the darkness. Give thanks for the light. Watch it grow.”
Hope is never impossible.
Don't forget the Holiday Healing Fair is happening in NYC on the 28th of December. It's a great way to give thanks for the light within us and around us. More info HERE.
With love and steadily growing light,
WINTER SOLSTICE RITUAL
What you’ll need - a taper candle, a bowl of water, a bowl of salt or dirt, a pen and paper, and a bunch of little tea lights. If you have a tree or menorah or some other kind of celebratory holiday centerpiece, do this ritual nearby.
1. Turn off all the lights in your house or the space in which you’re doing the ritual.
2. Arrange all of the tea lights in your ritual area, or place them all over your living space.
3. Pick a clean flat surface and cover it with a cloth if you like. On it place the larger taper candle, a bowl of water, and a bowl of salt. If you don’t have a taper candle that’s ok. Light the candle and burn some sage or incense. If you don’t like smoke, pick a scented candle or just give the room a spritz of perfume.
4. Call on the directions: Turning to the East, say “I call upon the spirits of the East and the element of AIR. Please join this sacred circle and support this sacred space.” Turn to the South and say, “I call upon the spirits of the South and the element of FIRE. Please join this sacred circle and support this sacred space.” Turn to the West and say “I call upon the spirits of the West and the element of Water. Please join this sacred circle and support this sacred space. Then turn to the North and say “I call upon the spirits of the North and the element of Earth. Please join this sacred circle and support this sacred space. Now bend down and touch the ground, and say, “I call upon Mother Earth to ground this sacred space and support this working. I offer thanks for all that you do, Mother, in nourishing and supporting me, my loved ones and all beings on Earth.” Then stand tall and raise your arms to the sky, saying “I call upon Father Sky to inspire and illuminate this working. I give thanks to magic, and all the energies of the higher planes and ask for their to support in this sacred space.” Then, bring your hands into a prayer position at your heart center and bow deeply into your heart and say, “I honor the 7th direction, the center of my being that is the center of all beings. Please let this connection strengthen and support this sacred working.” If you don't like these forces or names for God/Goddess/All That Is, we cool, pick your own. Just pick something that is bigger than you, beyond yourself (archangels, astrological signs, planets, or deities from some other lineage).
5. State your intention clearly: “This is a ceremony to observe and honor the winter solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. I (or we) perform this ceremony to honor the darkness, and to affirm the strength and power of the light as it returns.”
6. Using your pen and a small piece of paper, write down your fears for the winter to come. Write them down and fold them up when you’re done.
7. Holding these fears in your hand, say, “I release these fears to the darkness and surrender them to the void from which all things come and to which all things return.” Bury the paper in the salt, extinguish the taper candle and imagine your fears dissolving in blackness. You can even close your eyes and imagine yourself dissolving in blackness. Use this moment, even if it’s JUST this moment, to let everything go.
8. If your eyes are closed, start to watch the darkness for a point of light. Let that light begin to grow within you. If your eyes are open, or whenever you open them, re-light the taper candle and say, “We celebrate the return of the light, the hope that will guide us through the winter to come, the hope that is always with us, the light that is eternal.” Now you can use the taper candle to light all the other little tea lights, or just use a lighter or matches.
9. Return to your bowl of salt. Sit with it for a moment and watch the quiet, gently flickering lights around you. Look at the bowl of salt and imagine your favorite flower growing up from within. Watch all the stages of growth - from sprout to shoot to stem to leaves. When it starts to blossom let it be the most vividly colored bloom you’ve ever seen. Hold the beauty of that bloom in your visualization for as long as you can, then let the petals fall, let the leaves wither, and watch as the stem wilts and disintegrates. Visualize this cycle fully once, or as many times as you like. Appreciate the cyclical nature of life, and the sweetness of this moment. You’ve just moved through the portal of the solstice, from darkness into light.
10. Stand again and go through the directions in reverse. Give thanks to the sky above, the earth below, and the 4 directions and their associated elements - Earth in the North, Water in the West, Fire in the South, and Air in the East. Return to the central space of your heart with hands at heart center. Give thanks to yourself, to anyone you’ve done the ritual with, to your family, your loved ones, to all of human kind, and to all beings on earth and to the forces of the universe. Thank whomever and whatever you are grateful for. Then pronounce clearly, “This working is complete.” You can leave your fears buried through the winter or dispose of them and the salt or earth by burning, flushing, or burying them when you see fit.